Friday, December 07, 2012

Keeping Cosy

Later than intended start today due to having a really lovely cosy night in bed.  I just didn't want to get up!   My daughter had kindly brought me some thermal (bed) socks yesterday, which I wore over my support stockings all day, then wore them again in bed last night.  She also gave me a 'thingy' (think it's called a 'snood') that is a small but wide circle of loosely knitted yarn that can be worn round the neck or part of it pulled up over the hair at the back as a type of hood.   This too made me feel MUCH warmer.  I've never been a lover of wearing anything close round my neck, probably why I feel cold, but this was so loose, yet warm that I just loved it.  I even wore it in bed, and as it was such a cold night, pulled the front up over my face (could still breathe through the holes) until I'd warmed up.

B has developed a nasty cough, and when he turns in bed and his face is fairly close to mine, am hoping the 'snood' over my face gave me some protection, he was coughing over me quite a lot last night.  I did turn to face in the other direction, but that's not my best side for having a restful sleep.  However, overall did have a very comfortable night.

Yesterday began thawing out a big piece of DR's belly pork, three of their lamb shanks, and four packs of their beef rib trim.  Today will be cooking the 'trim' in the slow cooker, whilst the belly pork and shanks are slow-cooked in the oven.  B can then decide whether to have a piece of the pork or a lamb shank for his supper tonight.  The beef trim, when cooled, will be frozen in small containers, also any excess 'gravy' made by it.

Read another snippet in the paper yesterday that pretty well proved to me that either I've lost the plot or today's young mothers have.  The article was about the difficulties that a single mother with one child (8 years old) would be having when the recent child benefits and child tax credits kick in, despite the fact it seems she will get an increase - but by only 1%.

All credit to the young lady who does work 16 hours a week as an office manager (earning £589),  but sadly she cannot work longer hours or else she would lose her £586 housing benefit.  She also receives £83 a month in child benefit and £131 in working and child tax benefits.
As she says she can hardly afford her utility bills (£100) each month, her rent (£825) a month, and still has to find £100 for council tax, and £240 for food.

If I've added it up correctly, her 'income' (wages, credits and benefits) come to £1,387.  Her expenditure (as given above) is £1,265 a month, leaving her 'disposable income' of £122.   Even so there must be other necessary expenses not shown, transport to and from work, clothes.   Yet the lady says "It's becoming impossible to survive, I have no spare money. I am £12 overdrawn in my account.  For the past month have not been able to do a proper food shop.  If they're not moving things in line with inflation it's going to be impossible". 

This 'less than inflation' I do agree with but SURELY, given that the lady above has only 16 hours of employment, that leaves ample time to shop for reduced price foods and cook many economical and nutritious meals at home.  B and I manage on half the money the lady spends on one adult and one child, so have a feeling this is where she could save a considerable amount. 
Although she probably lives in London (it didn't say) even so - most supermarkets prices are pretty standard over the whole country.
But there again I'm speaking from almost half a century of experience of living on the breadline, initially through lack of finance myself, but in later years because I enjoy the challenge of discovering ways to eat really well on a 'pauper's purse'.  So perhaps not fair for me to judge or even criticise.

Having finished Clarissa D.W's book yesterday, she too made a comment on how since the 1970's  (when convenience foods began to take over) our cooking skills have declined, and in some instances lost altogether.  It was interesting to read her last chapter on the pre-war years, and also the years concerning food shortages in World War I when food was very short but not rationed as it was ine as in W.W.II when food rationing made sure that everyone had at least enough food to survive on, even though it seemed never enough. Also how people managed to make the very most of what they had then, and wasting food was something that never happened in those days (I remember myself that people could be fined quite a lot of money if they threw 'good' food away - even stale bread).

Am I expecting too much when I read the above article, as I mutter under my breath 'the silly woman is obviously spending far too much on food?"  As she is only £12 overdrawn she must be doing something right.  Many other families are hundreds if not thousands of pounds overdrawn. 

It all boils down to (excuse the pun) to what food we can afford to buy, then try and buy less and make the most, and also make the BEST of it.  Like most of our grandmothers (with the younger generation this means their great - or even great,great - grandmothers) used to do.  Old skills - if you can call it that - need to be re-taught, re-learnt, and let us hope the TV start showing how to.
The good thing is that many readers of this site, especially the younger ones, have had parents who have taught them the skills, or they remember their grandmothers cooking, and now following their example. 

Too many cooks (both on TV and in cookery books) and this could include myself at times, do seem to expect that everyone knows the basics, so never 'spells it out' from start to finish.  When writing my books, Erica Griffiths (TV producer and co-author of my first book) said to me that I must imagine that I'm writing for children, and explain every step so it is understandable.  "Surely", said I, "everyone knows what 'blend' means".  Apparently not!
I've tried to remember that when publishing recipes, and when using a familiar term (to me) I usually put in brackets the 'also know as' meaning.  It's one way to learn something new I suppose.

Last night watched a programme about squatters, presented by Richard Madeley.  Perhaps my main interest was watching the bit where the squatters used to go to the huge waste bins outside the supermarkets then forage inside to see what they could find to eat.  Lots and LOTS of bread thrown away, but also fruits (I saw a big bag of oranges taken), and in one 'squat' where about 20 lives, there were shelves of 'foraged' food, including asparagus. 

In a way it didn't seem THAT wrong to take over an empty building that had been empty for months/years, but certainly wrong to break into a home where it is empty because the residents might have been away on holiday. 
As some of the squatters said "we don't damage anything, we just look after the place while it is empty".  That actually could be a good idea, cheaper than getting a caretaker?
It's those yobbos who break in, then get drunk, on drugs, have parties etc (where do they get the money for that?) that do untold harm.

Feel the same about gypsies (called 'travellers' these days).  If they could keep their camps neat and tidy, then am sure there would be far less opposition to their sites.  But normally they seem to want to litter their ground with waste and rubbish.  Having seen 'Big Gypsy Weddings' (or some such name) on the TV, the travellers are not short of money.  Indeed in Morecambe there is a big site, and I've been told that several very large houses have been built with 'gypsy money'.  Indeed have seen a couple of them.

Another thing that (sort of) annoys me, is that all caravans, holidaymakers and travellers alike, although many are now magnificent, mostly they are all white, and on camp sites stand out like a sore thumb.  If they could be painted in sort of 'camouflage' colours, maybe green/blue to represent hedges, sky, they could almost disappear into the countryside and other settings, and also look a darn sight more attractive when driven along the roads.
Wistfully remember the gypsy (Romany) 'vardos', the name given to their caravans that were very similar in shape to the prairie waggons of the US pioneers.  These had traditional paintwork, and a tiny stove inside with a bunk bed, small lace curtains etc.  As it was traditional to burn the caravan when the gypsy owner died, there are very few original ones left, but enough (perhaps copies) still be to be seen, and some can be hired (complete with horse to pull it), for a different sort of holiday.

Much of our English 'charm' comes from the 'traditional', especially the architecture.  Cotswold stone and thatched cottages are still here, in fact many of our old buildings have stood the test of time.  Nowadays it seems everything has to be flat, and boring to look at.  In London - thankfully - their are one or two new tall buildings (the 'Gherkin' and the 'Shard') that are much nicer to look at than the high-rise flats and sky-scraper offices etc.  Yet, I suppose in my grandparent's day, those new Art Deco flat-roofed white houses were a blot on their landscape (although much admired now, perhaps due to many of them appearing in the Poirot espisodes).  Have to say myself do admire the Art Deco era, the property we live in was touched by that, and although our dining room is much more 'Victorian' with it's dark wood panelling and marble fire-place, and a light fitting with five beaded (hanging beads) light shades.
Our living room is very definitely Art D and my aim is to furnish it in that style (using the furniture we have - luckily most of it being the right shape and all cream which allows me freedom when it comes to cushions and bric a brac).  We even brought with us an Art Deco style pair of standard lamps which - would you believe - exactly matched the shades of the ceiling fitting (lights) that were already here.  How lucky was that?

Missed the Jimmy D's and Jamie O's new series last night as B wanted to watch 'Quest' where there was a programme on about boats or sailing or something.  Possibly the food prog. will be repeated, but it didn't sound THAT interesting.  If anyone watched it, let me know.

My Beloved has just come and brought me a cup of coffee.  I asked him how he felt and he replied in a weak and quivering voice "I feel really rotten, very weak".  Suggested he went back to bed, or stayed tucked up in the warm living room.  "I expect you won't be going to the social club tonight then" I said.  "Oh yes, I will" he said in a strong, loud voice (for that moment forgetting he was supposed to sound weak and ill).  No wonder I take his 'illnesses' with a pinch of salt.  Men really do seem to feel really ill and needing a lot of TLC,  when a women would have the same symptoms but just struggle on and try and ride it out.  When I am ill B tends to ingnore me (more than usual), just pops his head into the room to see if I'm still alive, maybe bring me a hot drink, NEVER cooks me any food, goes and buys himself takeaways, and only comes back into my life when I'm back on my feet again.  I rarely complain about his indifference, but if I have he always comes back with "well you should have asked".  Perhaps women are genetically programmed to KNOW what is needed so take care to provide it, and men aren't able to think beyond their own needs.  Not all men are like that (thankfully), but have a feeling a large percentage are, especially the older ones who are used to always having their wives to do the caring.

I've known many widowers, who although devoted to their late wives, have remarried in less than a year, and this I'm sure purely because they couldn't cope with living alone and having to fend for themselves, they needed a lady there to look after them them.  Again!  Sometimes think that some men never grow up past childhood when it comes to being looked after.  In my next life think it might be a good idea to return as a man, then I can put my feet up and have a 'slave' to give me what I want, when I want. 

Today's recipe is a sort-of macaroni cheese, but with a vegetable 'twist'.  That very word 'twist' reminds me of the 'Royle Family Christmas Special' when Denise was providing the Christmas Dinner.  Starting off with 'cuppa soups - with a twist'.  "What's the twist, Denise" her mother asked.  "It's served in a bowl instead of a mug" was the reply.   And, when her father had eaten his portion and asked for more, she tipped a packet of the dry mix into his bowl and poured hot water over it.   And I bet she represents quite a few youngsters these days.

Anyway, here is the recipe.  As ever, when it comes to veggies, most readers are aware we can subtitute or add others to this dish according to what we have (onions instead of leeks, cauliflower and/or broccoli, parsnips and/or carrots, pasta penne or other shapes instead of macaroni, any hard or even blue cheese instead of Cheddar.  Bits of crispy bacon (or ham) is not included in the ingredient list, but would add a lot more flavour.

Vegetable Macaroni Cheese: serves 4
6 oz (175g) macaroni (or other pasta shapes)
2 carrots, cut into chunky fingers
7 oz (200g) broccoli florets
1 large leek, washed, trimmed, thickly sliced
1 pint (600ml) milk
2 oz (50g) butter
2 oz (50g) plain flour
8 oz (225g) Cheddar cheese, grated
pinch cayenne pepper or paprika
pinch of salt
Cook the pasta as per packet instructions, then drain and keep warm.
Meanwhile cook the carrots in a large pan of boiling water for three minutes, then to these add the broccoli and cook for 9 minutes, add the leeks and cook for a further 3 minutes, then tip the panful into a colander to drain.
While the veggies are cooking, put the butter into a saucepan, and when melted, stir in the flour and cook for 1 minute, then gradually stir in the milk.  Heat gently, and keep whisking until the sauce boils and thickens, then stir in 3/4 of the cheese (approx 6 oz/175g), a pinch of cayenne or paprika, and the salt.
Mix the pasta, vegetables and cheese sauce together and spoon into a shallow ovenproof dish. Sprinkle the remaining cheese on top and pop under a pre-heated grill (set on high) and grill until the cheese has melted, turned golden and bubbling.  Sprinkle with more cayenne/paprika if you wish to add a little more colour to the dish, then serve.

Next recipe is also a pasta 'n cheese dish, but not quite as elaborate as the one above.  It's a good one as it can use up odd bits of blue cheese you may have in your fridge, and if you haven't much you can 'pad it out' using any other cheeses you have - even cream cheese (in which case you could omit the cream and add just a little milk to slacken the cream cheese).  The flavour of blue cheese makes this dish taste quite expensive (even though it isn't) and scattering over a few toasted hazlenuts or walnuts before serving can turn it into a good starter when entertaining (or a good lunch or supper dish for yourself).

Spaghetti with Blue Cheese and Onion: serves 4
8 oz (225g) spaghetti
1 x 284ml tub single cream
5 oz (150g) Danish Blue cheese, crumbled
2 spring onions (or 1 shallot) chopped
freshly ground black pepper
chopped toasted nuts (opt -see above)
Boil the spaghetti in salted water for 11 minutes or until tender but still firm to the bite (al dente).
Meanwhile put the cream in a bowl and mix in the cheese, onions and plenty of pepper.  Put the bowl over the pan of boiling spaghetti to allow the contents to warm through, stirring occasionally (the heating could be done in the microwave, in short bursts, stirring well between times.
Drain the pasta, put back into the pan with the cheese mixture, toss together then serve (with or without chopped toasted nuts).

Final recipe is a savoury Bread and Butter Pudding.  One I believe that our menfolk will approve of.
Cheese and Pickle Pudding: serves 4
1 oz (25g) butter, softened
6 slices bread, crusts removed
6 oz (175g) Cheddar cheese, finely grated
2 tblsp sweet pickle (of your choice)
3 large eggs
1 pint (600ml) milk
1 tblsp English mustard
salt and pepper
Butter both sides of the bread and - using the cheese and pickle as a filling, make into three 'rounds' of sandwiches.  Cut each into 4 triangles then put into an ovenproof dish, overlapping slightly.
Beat together the eggs, milk, mustard and seasoning to taste, then pour this over the sandwich triangles.  It can be cooked immediately at 160C, 325F, gas 3, for approx 45 minutes until golden and set, or it can be left to stand for an hour (or more) - this allowing the bread to soak up more of the eggs/milk which helps it rise more with a lighter texture - more like a 'souffle'.   Eat hot with either a mixed salad, or just watercress.

Nearly noon, so really now must go and start cooking my assorted meats.  We still have not had any snow, and think the worst is over for the moment, at least the rest of the country.  Between B's coughing bouts could hear a gale blowing outdoors, but this has subsided now to just a strong breeze.

Hope you can join me again tomorrow, but mindful it will be the weekend and with Christmas taking over much of our time, will understand if you are too busy to read/send comments.  Myself should be back again tomorrow, hopefully at an earlier time.  Maybe see you then?  Do hope so.